A telecommunications company in California that formerly had ties to AT&T recently settled with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in order to resolve a disability discrimination claim.
The claim involved an employee who was hard of hearing. The employee had asked for someone to interpret via sign language what was transpiring during company meetings. The employer declined this request and instead accommodated the employee’s needs by writing down what happened at the meeting so that he could understand after the meeting was over. Of course, this limited his ability to participate meaningfully in the meeting.
Co-workers also stood close to the employee so that the employee could supposedly read the lips of the other person.
Eventually, the company agreed to tender $15,000 but also entered in to a two-year agreement under which the employer will ensure better training, as well as appropriate tracking of those who complain about having issues related to workplace discrimination based on disability. The employer must also provide a sign language interpreter for the employee.
While this suit was filed and resolved directly by the EEOC, it goes to serve as a lesson for private employers who feel that they are being discriminated against because of a disability. Specifically, an employer cannot just provide a barely workable solution to an employee with a disability and then call it an accommodation that meets the requirements of the law. If there are better remedies that are still reasonable, an employer may have an obligation to their workers to use those remedies.